Every year, around the beginning of June I have an “ah-HA!” moment or maybe more appropriately, an “OH NO….where ARE THOSE!??!” moment.  I go to my “4th Grade Letters” drawer, {as you know, the label maker is my friend}, pull it open and look for “Class of ______ ” with the current year.  I let the letters fall out and look over the names.  Even though eight years have passed, memory upon memory starts coming to my mind from that particular group of students.

This year’s group happened to be in my class the year that Matt and I got married.  A group of them even came to the wedding {we did an open invitation to the ceremony to kids from the school}.

Some students were younger siblings of students I’d already worked with.  Another chunk would have younger siblings in my class in the years to come.  I am still in touch with many of the families of these students, despite no longer working and living in the same place.

Each year I would have the kids write a letter to themselves the last week of school.  I asked them to share memories of the current year and then talk about what they envisioned to be true about their lives at graduation.  They could ask questions to themselves, make predictions, give graduation “HOO HA HEY!” tributes.  Pretty open.  After the students wrote their letters, I put them away in my little “time capsule” to be pulled out and mailed eight years later.

I tell the students that I won’t read their letters.  And for the most part, that’s true.  But some years, as I’m adding my own letter to their envelope, I **sneak** a peek at their words.  The handwriting, despite the eight years that have gone by, is still identifiable to me.  Most without even seeing their names.  After spending 180 days with them, grading many pieces of their work, you really start to associate the visual of their handwriting with their identity in an odd way.

One letter said, “I’m thinking about being a clothes designer!  It sounds like Audrey and I really want to work together, who knows maybe we will!  We’ll have the best outfits in town!”  And yes, this munchkin is doing just that….having already had great experiences in New York.

I love this sentiment:  “If you don’t graduate, you can’t blame me.”  Yes, you wrote this letter TO YOURSELF as a 4th grader.  But you can’t blame yourself if you don’t graduate.  Of the wisdom of 10 year olds.

Another predicted, “I make a prediction that you will get a job on Solano, then go to college at Georgetown.  I have some advice for you.  My advice is to NEVER smoke.  It is really bad for you.  Please never do it.  I hope you did well in school this year.  I wonder how you are.”

One envelope encouraged, “Good Luck, Teenager!”

These notes and their sentiments, humor, earnestness and innocence really hit me this year.  More than almost any other year.  I’m not sure why….maybe because my own is starting elementary school in the fall?  Maybe because I still toy with my professional life and wonder if I should be in the classroom and if I’m really cut out for it?  I’m really not sure.

This current teaching experience  that will be coming to a close faster than I realize, has been a time of immense growth for me.  At the outset, I was optimistic, albeit nervous.  Filled with expectation.  Things have been tough.  VERY tough.  I have doubted myself many days.  Re-reading the letters from my students in 2004 threw all of these emotions back in my face.  They reflected on read aloud books we shared, field trips and adventures, units of study and big projects.  They wondered about college and friendships.  Their verbiage was verbose, creative and insightful.

It has left a hard-to-define place in my heart.  I compare and contrast the experiences I had previously so often to what I’m immersed in today.  I want to write letters with my current kids and I SO desire that they too would  write about dreams of college on the East Coast.  Or know how to craft their letter with paragraphs.  To aspire to graduation in 2020.  But I know that many are much more focused on the here and now.  My colleague had a student share that he just doesn’t want to end up in jail when he gets older.  Others dream and share about summer plans involving a trip to Great America.  No European destinations on the agenda.  My heart breaks for them some days.  I don’t sense that they are old enough to see and perceive the difference, but I know what could be “out there” for them.  I WANT them to long for graduation, college, a challenging and meaningful career.

When I think about these questions for my own life, I am stymied a bit.  Planning out goals and predictions for 5 years?  8 years?  10 years?  Did I think I would be married with two children living where I am, doing what I’m doing ten years ago?  Maybe.  But to TRULY know the places my deeper desires, dreams and expectations have flowed and moved and gone?!?   I was clueless.

{many days I’m just trying to decide the basics….twice rewarmed coffee or pineapple “spritzer” with a fancy straw?!}

If I want my current students to dream big, plan for the future and work towards something they desire, then I’m realizing I need to take up this challenge too.  To walk the tenuous balance of being in the moment, but working towards something “out there”.  To imagine myself a parent of a 15 year old and 11 year old.  What do I want our household and family to have experienced?  What dreams to I hope  we’ve reached for?  What truths are we living into?  What fills our time?  What will *matter* then?

For now, it’s all about finishing the school year strong.  Completing report cards.  Helping the students finalize their informational research reports.  Enjoying a meaningful last day, reflecting with the kids {which is like caging and holding back wild boars in the open savanna}.  At home, with our family, making decisions that best suit us in the moment vs trying to live up to my own unreasonable expectations.  Yesterday that meant a no-bake dinner of cereal and fresh fruit for me after the kids were to bed and letting my eldest **buy** sunflowers for me at Trader Joes.  {he never managed to whip out his own debit card for that purchase!}

This time of year, similar to January, offers those chances to look back.  And opportunities to look forward.  A little retrospective.  A dash of prospective.  A little introspection.  Chances to watch, see and observe.  What will the future hold?  What will the past have shown us?  Time to open up our eyes, do the hard work of observing and move into it all.

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